Swimming, Bathing, and Balneology

Romans, Chinese, Ottomans, Japanese, and central Europeans have bathed in geothermal waters for centuries. Today, more than 2200 hot springs resorts in Japan draw 100 million guests every year, and the “return-to-nature’’ movement in the United States has revitalized many hot spring resorts.

The geothermal water at Xiaotangshan Sanitar­ium, northwest of Beijing, has been used for medical purposes for more than 500 years. Today, the 50°C water is used to treat high blood pressure, rheuma­tism, skin disease, diseases of the nervous system, ulcers, and generally for recuperation after surgery. In Rotorua, New Zealand, at the center of the Taupo Volcanic Zone of North Island, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was built during World War II for U. S. servicemen and later became the national hospital for the treatment of rheumatic disease. The hospital has 200 beds, an outpatient service, and a cerebral palsy unit. Both acidic and basic heated mud baths treat rheumatic diseases.

In Beppu on the southern island of Kyushu, Japan, hot water and steam meet many needs: heating,
bathing, cooking, industrial operations, agriculture research, physical therapy, recreational bathing, and even a small zoo. The waters are promoted for ‘‘digestive system troubles, nervous troubles, and skin troubles.’’ Many sick and crippled people come to Beppu for rehabilitation and physical therapy. There are also eight Jigokus (‘‘burning hells’’) in town that show various geothermal phenomena that are used as tourist attractions.

In the area of the former Czechoslovakia, the use of thermal waters has been traced back before the occupation of the Romans and has had a recorded use of approximately 1000 years. Today, there are 60 spa resorts located mainly in Slovakia that are visited by 460,000 patients annually, usually for an average stay of 3 weeks each. These spas have old and well – established therapeutic traditions. Each sanitarium is designated for the treatment of specific diseases depending on the chemical composition of the mineral waters and spring gas, availability of peat and sulfurous mud, and climatic conditions. The therapeutic successes of these spas are based on centuries of healing tradition (balneology), system­atically supplemented by the latest discoveries of modern medical science.

Bathing and therapeutic sites in the United States include Saratoga Springs, New York; Warm Springs, Georgia; Hot Springs, Virginia; White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia; Hot Spring, Arkansas; Thermopolis, Wyoming; and Calistoga, California. These sites were originally used by Indians for bathing and recuperating from battle. There are more than 115 major geothermal spas in the United States with an annual energy use of 1500 TJ.

Updated: March 13, 2016 — 12:15 am